MARION — Before its first official football practice, Marion was without a home.
The Indians’ facilities were decimated during last month’s derecho, wiping out their practice area temporarily and rendering the Thomas Park field unplayable for the entire season.
As the city started to clean up from the storm, Marion turned to a nearby adversary. Linn-Mar quickly switched from crosstown rival to resource, providing a place to train and host.
Linn-Mar Stadium will be a busy venue this weekend, holding the Lions’ game against Cedar Rapids Xavier on Friday night. Marion will move in on Saturday, facing Center Point-Urbana for its season opener at 2:30 p.m.
“Nobody’s taking it for granted,” Marion senior Garret Wagner said. “I feel like we’re all blessed we’re still having a season. We’re really excited being able to play and play somewhere. A field is a field. I think we’re ready.”
The ball started rolling immediately after the storm. Lovell gauged the severity of the damage at Thomas Park the same day. Marion High School was inaccessible for a period of time.
After a few days, Marion Activities Director Mike Manderscheid reached out to Linn-Mar AD Dave Brown. Linn-Mar administration approved it immediately.
The two schools haven’t been able to resume the series for them to take the field together, but they moved quickly to share one. Both booster clubs have collaborated, offering a t-shirt with the “L” from the Linn-Mar logo and “M” from Marion’s that says “Stronger Together” as a fundraising effort.
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“Just the nature what this town wants to be from a community standpoint,” Marion Coach Tim Lovell said. “Linn-Mar and Marion, two former competitors now just trying to represent the community really well. They have done that.”
Manderscheid began working with Brown and Linn-Mar Associate AD Tonya Moe, setting up a place for Marion’s football and volleyball teams to practice. They also arranged the site for Marion’s three home contests this season.
“Our district administration said we’re going to make this work out for them,” Brown said. “It was really smooth. We got approval right away and we were able to make a plan that worked.”
The first week of practice was interrupted by the storm. Marion began practicing at Excelsior Middle School the following Monday.
Coaches had to haul football gear, tools and video and water equipment between schools, using the staff’s own pickup trucks and Lovell’s SUV. Players helped with transport as well.
“The kids did an amazing job,” Lovell said. “They just rolled with it and were just glad to be practicing. The weather was hot and we played on a hard field, but it was a place to practice. We’re really grateful for that.”
The Indians’ schedule is a little quirky. Each of their home games will be on Saturday. The positive is they will have the only game in town, giving people a chance to see football on Saturday with college seasons suspended.
The downside is the short turnaround, especially Week 3. Marion plays Davenport Assumption at Brady Street Stadium on Thursday. The team will be forced to adjust to the new routine.
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“Obviously, it’s different,” Wagner said. “Pregame won’t be on Thursdays. I feel it will just give us another day to prepare.”
Lovell recalled his first return to Linn-Mar Stadium for a scrimmage a couple years ago. The experience was strange being on the opposite sideline. Now, he will be back on the home sideline where he coached as an assistant from 2009-2015.
“It is nostalgic,” said Lovell, who coached Linn-Mar soccer for five seasons and still teaches in the school district. “Going into that locker room, it’s going to bring back a lot of memories, a lot of good ones.
“It’s a neat place. It’s a great stadium. A lot of great things that have happened there. I was fortunate to be around when it was built and it’s supporting our program right now. I think it’s good for our kids to see it and that Linn-Mar is extending a hand of grace to us and letting us use a really nice facility.”
Marion will run the show on their own Saturday, but follow the protocols that Linn-Mar has established. Marion will also sell their own concessions and merchandise.
“It’s their home stadium for a day,” Brown said. “It’s going to be their home this year. Kids going through, this is the field they will get to play on their senior year. Besides the “LM” in the middle of the field, we want it to feel like home and make those kids to feel comfortable. Fans get a chance to come over, too.”
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